Are Food Journals Worth the Effort?

I probably wouldn’t be too far off I if I assumed that most of you have tried more than one diet plan before embarking on your current weight loss journey.

I know I did.

I had tried more diets than I’d care to confess to before I finally lost weight using percentage of fat, portion control, and exercise.

I frequently get emails from people asking my opinion on a wide variety of topics. One of the common questions I get is that involving journaling of food. When I teach my weight loss class, not surprisingly called, Fit to the Finish, I offer the participants a food diary sheet they can use if they’d like, but I don’t “require” it. Some people use it, and some don’t.

But perhaps more of them should. A study by Kaiser Permanente found that the people who kept a food diary lost twice as much weight as those people that did not. And the study size was relatively large – 1,700 people. I think it is pretty impressive that the food diary participants lost twice as much weight as the non-food diary participants.

People often ask me whether I kept a food diary as I was losing weight.  The answer is no, I didn’t keep a food diary on a regular basis. BUT, I did occasionally track what I was eating for a few days to make certain that I wasn’t

1) Eating too much of a good thing,

2) Missing out on certain nutrients.

The occasional food diary was a good compromise for me, because although I am pretty disciplined, I didn’t think that writing down my food for the rest of my life would be something I could stick with.

However, food journaling doesn’t have to be an all or nothing affair. For me, the occasional food journaling worked beautifully, but for other people, even that small amount of journaling would be restrictive and difficult. For still others, keeping track of every bit of food that goes into their mouth is their number one best way to success. And I admire that because it’s a time-honored, proven strategy.

There are a lot of online diet tools available, but one that I admire greatly is SparkPeople. That’s a free site which offers calorie tracking, an abundance of weight loss articles, exercise routines, message boards and more. Their primary recommendation for weight loss centers around food journaling (through their site), calorie counting, and exercise.

What are your thoughts on food journaling? Yes it’s worth your time, or not for you. I’d love to hear your thoughtsDiane


43 thoughts on “Are Food Journals Worth the Effort?

  1. Miz says:

    I kept one once and it was the only time (week :-)) I almost became food obsessed.
    Just doesnt work for *me.*

  2. Diandra says:

    Currently I am logging all my food and tracking calories – but it is not something I think I can do for the rest of my life. It is such a tedious task! I guess once I am where I want to be, I will try to settle into a natural food routine and try to “wing it”. Actually, I am not planning most food, but trying to find out what is good for me, eating only what I need, and I log it afterwards to see where that took me. Some days the results are surprising – especially if I am sure I dropped the ball that day.

  3. Fran@ Broken Cookies Don't Count says:

    Diane, being a Weight Watchers Lifetime member and former leader, I know how important food journaling is. I just celebrated 25 years as a WW member on Friday and to this day, I still track my foods every day. I think it is the reason I am under my WW goal today. It is a key element to weight loss and maintenance, but the real key is being Honest with yourself in your journal. It won’t help if you aren’t truthful about your food choices.

  4. blackhuff says:

    I do Food Journalling especially over a weekend to stay on track while being at home. I food journal some days in the week as well but my eating on week days are pretty much the same each and every week, so it’s not such a head smash if I don’t journal my food on week days though.

  5. Lori says:

    For me, journaling is important as much for maintenance as it was for weight loss. That’s just me, though. I like to see the numbers. I also will put in the food for the next day so that it will be much easier for me to get up and stick to my plan. I know pretty much when my more ‘luxury’ meals and treats will come, so I can plan around them.

  6. Karen@WaistingTime says:

    I think, as with many things diet and life related, we each need to figure out what works for us. I have done journaling periodically and can find it very enlightening. But for the long run, I just don’t like to have that “chore.” I think is someone is struggling to lose or hits a plateau, the journal can help them figure out why.

  7. Jody - Fit at 54 says:

    I think a food AND emotional journal can be a good thing for many because studies show that most people underestimate how much they eat & overestimate how many calories they are burning off. Nothing says you have to do it forever & for those that are not losing & keep saying they don’t understand why – this can tell them why. People can eat 500 calories plus each day just in nibbling…

  8. Emergefit says:

    Dare I disagree with you for the first time…? I believe that if one food journals, it must be an all or nothing discipline. The tactile act of writing down the good, the bad, and the ugly of one’s eating reinforces the good, the bad, and the ugly eating choices one makes on any given day.

    Doing it daily, in my opinion, is no different discipline than daily exercise. It doesn’t take much time to write down what one eats, and this also serves as good reminder of what one doesn’t eat, but should.

    For my weight loss clients, daily food journaling is a requirement. Major studies notwithstanding, daily food journaling works — I have seen it with my own eyes.

  9. Jane says:

    I’ve kept a food journal since 2006. I have always done it on paper, long hand. Eating many of the same natural foods each month, I rarely need to ‘look up’ the calories/carbs/fats/fiber/protein counts anymore. I know them from memory. t first it took me 20-30 minutes a day. I was learning. Now it takes me less than 5 minutes a day and yes, I will do it for as long as I want to keep off the 220 pounds I have lost. It has worked.

    Yes, I skip a day occasionally. Sometimes I write the food down and don’t write the counts because I know them in my head and know they are in the correct range. I do it even when I do not want to because sometimes I am surprised that even after all this time, the counts can creep up without my noticing.

    I am vigilant but not obsessive.

  10. Alayna says:

    Diane, thanks for the sparkpeople shout out! woo hoo! I track my food and exercise on sparks, and it has worked for me. I started Sept 2011 and lost weight consistently till Thanksgiving when I got stressed and decided to ‘wing it’ with my food intake. I maintained thru the holidays but didn’t lose until I started tracking food again in February. So, I’ve found that it’s essential for me. I am not obsessive about it, but I do my very best to log everything I eat.

  11. michelle says:

    I enjoy reading your blog, thanks!
    I usually read it as I have my breakfast, then go to Spark to log my food. Just thought I would mention the feature on Spark that drew me to the site was their fabulous recipe (nutrition) calculator! Once I logged in, and found the nutrition tracker, as well as all of the important and pertinent information for weight loss and maintenance, I was hooked. I love being able to eat the usual foods my husband and I love, while tweaking my recipes using the calculator to make them far healthier. The Spark recipe collection is very extensive, and we’ve tried many of them, with great results : )
    Tracking my food daily (usually after every meal) I know where I”m lacking nutritionally, as Spark breaks down each item, and totals it up for you automatically. Once you have entered most of your usual foods and recipe ingredients ( I had to enter a lot, as I’m in Canada, and many of the products listed on the US based Spark site are unavailable here, or have some different nutrition counts) I find it only takes a few minutes each day to get a detailed look at where I’m at.
    I also love the Fitness tracker, as well as the trackers for weight/measurements/blood pressure, etc etc.
    For me, the more numbers I can watch/track, the better to keep me motivated! (down 39 pounds in 19 weeks!) : )

  12. Meg (@LadyMegSoprano) says:

    All of my trainers have had me journal, and two of them were really good about checking it and advising me on what I was doing well and what needed improvement. About six weeks ago, my current trainer stopped asking for it and I stopped doing it. I’m at a point where I’ve developed the good habits and I enjoy making a little game out of upping the variety of fruits and veggies I use (for example, using kale in one meal, spinach in another just to be different).

    The journal was CRUCIAL to me when I started, because I needed the stark black-and-white of seeing just what I put in my body. It held me to measuring my portions so I could learn what four ounces of chicken looks like, or a 1/2 cup of beans, or whatever.

    If I feel like I start sliding backwards, I’ll journal again, but for now, I’m okay without it.

  13. Taryl says:

    You know me, I’m a big food logger. I use the Loseit! App now, but I started on a sheet that included a category for emotions surrounding eating, too, and that was very eye opening! It’s simple enough for me to do now that it is almost automatic and I think it is the primary factor in my success. All by my lonesome I overeat, that’s how I got fat! I have to use external controls like daily weighing and food tracking to avoid that pattern again. It’s glasses for my stomach ;).

  14. Melinda says:

    I know that food journaling works…but I’ve always had trouble sticking with it. I recently upgraded to an iPhone and have been doing my tracking on WW Mobile and…so far…that has been working well for me.

  15. liz says:

    I love tracking my food on my phone. I use Livestrong Daily plate but recently I started tracking just how I felt about all the food. I wanted to look into the reasons I was eating, ie boredom, alone stuff like that. I think they can be completely useful.

    • C says:

      I also use live strong and like that it saves my most commonly used foods. I like that I can see what I have done months ago and how my eating has changed. I log on a few times a day. Often I will plan out my eating until dinner-I pack my lunches and snacks so its easy to know what I will be eating, and then fill in extras after dinner. The accountablility to myself is great. I have not looked into the emotions behind eating when/what but that is a great idea for a next step I can take.

  16. Andie says:

    I don’t do it religiously as I did for the first six months of this lifestyle change … I do think it can be incredibly helpful not only to see how much you are eating, but to really begin to understand and internalize the calories associated with certain food choices. I’ve really liked using Lose It on my iPhone and iPad.

  17. Roz@weightingfor50 says:

    For me, food journalling works well. That said, sometimes is just seems like SUCH a chore. Just this past weekend, i didn’t journal/track just to give myself a break. I’m glad I did, but I was right back tracking this morning. It just feels right to do that, and be accountable. Hope you have a great week!!!

  18. Caron says:

    Another WW here who believes keeping track of my food every day with my journal is crucial to my success in maintaining. I know we are all different so others will not agree. That’s fine too. 🙂

  19. Leah says:

    Just reading your title I said out loud, “Yes!” When I am losing weight the food tracker I use (Tap and Track) is wonderful. It’s not something I plan on having to do after being in maintenance a while, because I am trying to learn to truly pay attention to my body’s needs.

    It’s very eye opening to see on paper (or electronic) the truth about the foods I’m consuming – calories per serving, serving sizes, etc. Before all the electronics I bought a cute journal and just wrote what I ate daily. It helps me. 🙂

  20. Jeremy Logsdon says:

    This is one that I do, even though I don’t like it. I feel that I become a little food obsessed, but at the same time… I kinda think I need to. I carry a moleskin around with me. It’s funny – I love technology and web gadgets, but I have to go old school with my food journal. Online tracking does not cut it for me, at all.

  21. LovesCatsin CA says:

    Food diaries are great and I’ve always lost weight using them when I was younger (and gained weight when I stopped). The sad thing about finding long ago food diaries when I did them manually is 1) finding out just how much more I could eat when younger with a faster metabolism, even though I was overweight. 2) figuring out I had the same poundage to lose 25 years ago, 20 years ago, and 15 years ago as I have now…

    When I went kind of overboard and gained a lot of weight in my late 30s, early 40s, I used Lose It while I was losing weight starting 5 years ago, and it worked well.

    As far as keeping it off, I have been successful in keeping off 22-25 pounds of what I lost (depending on the weight fluctuation) off my peak, for over 4 years. I have been unsuccessful in terms of having regained 7-10 pounds (again depending on that 3 pound range) from what I thought was my final weight.

    If I try to stay within the same calorie parameters as it should take to “maintain” (not lose, maintain), I’m just ravenous part of the time–and part of the time I just want to dive into food for fatigue or anxiety. I like the gradual cessation of periods and cramps and tenderness in the chest half the month… I think what they say about belly fat, cortisol, weight gain without enough sleep (and even if I sleep more hours, I still have a restless sleep type of insomnia so I haven’t felt rested in 6 months).

    Perimenopause sucks. I’m not trying to lose that 7-10 pounds at the moment–just trying to exercise, eat some quality foods and keep the status quo from inflating any. Then I figure if I lost it 25 years ago, 20 years ago, 15 years ago and 5 years ago, I can lose it again… and hopefully to stay–after the “change” roller coaster stabilizes somewhat and I don’t have extreme heat, hunger, moods, or fatigue to deal with.

    PS thanks for the green coffee tip–I ordered some decaf green coffee extract, which is actually marketed more for blood sugar/hypoglycemia/diabetes not weight loss–it does help prevent that severe blood sugar crash effect (which balancing protein etc. helps with but I think the lack of enough/quality sleep exascerbated a tendency to get insulin spikes and crash). It’s so much better than suddenly feeling ravenous and faint. I get warnings now.

  22. Karla says:

    I am conflicted. I have always kept a food journal, yet I went on vacation and ate carefully and I was fine. No weight gain and I have any and every food available at my finger tips. When I eat too much rich food or too much gluten it makes me sick. So whatever works for you. Planning helps me so I journal and I have no thoughts to stop

  23. Mary Ellen Quigley says:

    I guess I sort of keep a food journal. I do the Weight Watcher’s etools to help track my points. At first, I was completely food obsessed. Now that I know the program better, it is easier for me to track in my head and actually enter it into the computer later. I did a written journal as a part of other diets in the past. They were a pain in the butt.

  24. spinmethin says:

    I’m a huge fan of tracking food. I tried it on paper a while back and tried weight watchers online as well, but the only thing I have stuck with is MyFitnessPal app. It is awesome! You can scan barcodes and it’ll instantly input the nutritional info, you can crate your own recipes where you add all the ingredients then divide it by number of servings… and you can link with your friends so you share when you lose weight, when you’re under your calories for the day and what you burn with exercise. It’s so convenient to have it right on my phone, I have used it for about 2 months and lost 15 lbs. Without having the goal of staying under my calories for the day, I have very little motivation to skip that dessert or high calorie drink, so tracking is definitely the way to go for me!

  25. Kaitie says:

    I track my food, and find great satisfaction in it! I use – its great! I love that it also allows you to track exercise – it has always been more difficult for me to maintain exercising as opposed to a decent diet.

  26. I❤ 2Eat says:

    Timely post for me because I just started one today. I’ve tried them a couple of times before (years ago), but couldn’t stick to them for more than a couple of weeks. My cousin asked me about my opinion on them, which I posted on my blog, but wanted to give it another go to see if it would work. They haven’t worked previously because I just get tired of writing down what I eat, and then feel bad about it when I happen to eat something unhealthy. Sometimes becomes a vicious cycle. We’ll see how it goes this time!

  27. deniseselah says:

    ABSOLUTELY works for me. I did WW a few years ago and had success while I was logging food … and once I got lazy I stopped losing. Now I use an online program + iphone app that tracks calories – and it even keeps track of consecutive log-in days. I have had some days where I DID NOT WANT TO LOG … but thought about how sad it would be to break my streak … and also remembered my commitment to be honest about what I eat, no matter what. And it has really helped me. I’ll admit tho that I probably would find some excuse to not log if I had to do it with pen and paper.

  28. Jamie says:

    I don’t know that this is technically “journaling”, but I always track my foods using my MyNetDiary app. It has been crucial to my weight loss, but I can’t imagine counting calories without some kind of tool like that. I am 6 pounds away from my goal weight, and struggling to decide whether I will or won’t continue tracking…any maintainers out there who still track foods and calorie content?

  29. Amy says:

    Like you, I know I couldn’t do this for the rest of my life, but I do think there are times when it is very helpful. I also feel that planning my menus ahead of time is possibly even more helpful than logging what I’ve eaten after the fact. I try to plan at least all of our family dinners each week which makes it easier to stick to healthy meals.

  30. me says:

    The times I am most successful are when I’m using Livestrong to log my calories. I dream of being an intuitive eater and do believe in it, but I think maybe that will come later down the road with LOTS more practice in eating well. ??? I do think that everyone will have their own way of finding success~that there is no ONE right way to lose weight!!!

  31. KCLAnderson (Karen) says:

    I’m like you Diane…there were periods of time when I did it and found it helpful, but not something I want to do for the rest of my life. It’s also important to note that there are various ways of journaling and/or tracking, Journaling about how you’re feeling and what you notice when you eat can be a great tool for understanding yourself and seeing patterns. Tracking calories/nutrients is something else completely. I found that I used “tracking” as a form of controlling what I ate because I wouldn’t want to have to log something that I didn’t think was “good” and I often found myself “lying” to the tracker and to myself. For that reason alone, I found tracking not to be a good tool for me.

  32. Maren says:

    Since my chosen method is calorie counting that involves journaling my food… and I have to say it’s pretty much effortless now. It gives me all the information I need to tweak my diet, get different nutrients in etc. So I’m all for it!

  33. asithi says:

    I continued to count calories when I am on maintenance on and off over the years. I give myself a 5 pound float. Once I am 5 pounds heavier than my maintenance weight, I would start keeping a food journal again until I get back to my maintenance weight. This helps me identify my problem areas because after a while I either resume or pick up a sloppy eating habit which leads to the slight weight gain. Since I hate counting calories, I try really hard to not hit my 5 pound ceiling.

  34. Lisa says:

    Considering that I used a food journal to lose my 110 pounds, I’m going to say YES it is worth the effort. And as a 4 year maintainer I still count my calories every day. I’ve graduated to an iPhone app instead of a hand written journal and it’s easy and I always have my phone with me. Keeping track of food and calories keeps me accountable.

  35. Jennifer says:

    I keep one and have to say that it helps me keep my focus. I tried My Fitness Pal, but found it tedious. I tried taking a picture of every thing I ate. That was certainly eye opening, being a visual person.

  36. Parnell B. Clark says:

    This helps me identify my problem areas because after a while I either resume or pick up a sloppy eating habit which leads to the slight weight gain.This is very interesting post Thanks for sharing this post. I love it.

  37. Shirley Fai says:

    Well sometimes, food journaling can be very helpful especially when you want to have an organized meal plans…For me, it will all be worth…

  38. E. Jane says:

    I have mixed feelings about journaling my food every day. That’s because I have been most successful at weight loss when I WASN’T journaling on a regular basis. I am now doing something that does involve logging my food each day, and I am having more success with weight loss again. I am using my Body Fit Device, which measures my exercise and also requires me to enter my food every day to see my calorie deficit. It also records sleep time, etc. I love this, because there is no guesswork. It’s a bit different than journaling in a notebook, but also similar.

  39. Ryan says:

    Absolutely worth it! And I’ve found MyNetDiary to be the easiest to use. I love their Photo Foods option for adding new foods, and I can enter my own recipes.

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